I am listening, God.

What does it mean to turn our lives over to God? What does it mean to follow God’s “will”? How do we know when we are hearing God’s voice or just our ego talking to us cloaked in “God-language”? Thirty-nine years after making a conscious decision to put God at the center of my life, I can honestly say that I do not have answers to any of these questions. They are as relevant to me today as they were years ago, but in a much different way.

I was a rebellious teenager and young adult and totally bought into the independent self-sufficient model. The idea of turning my life over to God was, frankly, quite repugnant. I finally had some freedom to be the captain of my ship, and now I’m supposed to somehow let God do the steering? For me it just conjured up the image of vacant-eyed followers of cults. I was having nothing to do with it and thought I could just somehow remain captain of my ship while hoping that God would attach her lifeboat to mine (and, you know, save me if I needed saving).

When I met my teacher a seismic shift occurred, because I saw that she was in complete control of her life and yet everything she did was part of something larger, part of her commitment and devotion to the divine. It wasn’t sentimental spiritual bull, it wasn’t an attempt to gain a following or convert anyone. She wasn’t trying to tell anyone they must do it her way in order to find God. There were many times in the early years when my teacher said things to me that pierced me to the core, sometimes illuminating an inner wound that was keeping me from divine love, sometimes showing me a glimpse of the infinite capacity for love that we all contain.

I am profoundly grateful for having such a teacher, and yet there came a time when I needed to find my own direct communication with God. What might that look like? There were many times when I just felt totally lost and that if God was speaking to me, I apparently was incapable of hearing. Also standing in my way were all of the notions I had of what it means to live a spiritual life. It goes something like this: “If I really turn my life over to God, it means I will have to give away everything I own, leave my family, be celibate, live with the poor on the streets like Mother Teresa, save the world, etc.” Despite the fact that I had my teacher’s example to show me that was not necessarily the way it worked, my fear was that if I really listened to God, this is what would be asked of me.

For many years, what I see now as communication with God was maybe the tough love approach. To anthropomorphize God, I imagine him/her saying, “How are we ever going to get through to her? I guess we will need to bonk her over the head!” And so my “messages” came in the form of difficult life experiences: weird physical symptoms that came and went in mysterious ways, an unplanned pregnancy, cars and toilets breaking down on the same day, and once, at the exact moment I was thinking “my life is not worth anything, it doesn’t matter if I live or die,” my car was struck by lightning. Now, I am not saying that this is the way God speaks to anyone else, but in my case, apparently it took a lot to get my attention. I have learned, through walks in nature, meditation, creating artwork and just sitting in silent contemplation, to begin to pay attention to the much quieter and subtler way the divine is speaking to me.

There was a time when I thought I wanted to hear God’s voice speaking to me directly, or see visions like the saints and mystics. Then something happened that might fit into that category, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. “Thank you, God,” I said, “but if it’s all the same to you, I would prefer to go back to groping around in the dark to try and discern your message to me.”

Many people see prayer as their communication with God, but often when we pray we are doing all of the “talking.” Just as it is with a friend or a partner, true communication is not possible if you don’t stop talking long enough to listen. So it is with God. It is not just that we need to stop talking, we need to stop our brains from racing around, or as the Buddhists so aptly put it, we must stop our “monkey mind.” We also need to stop racing around from one activity to another, fulfilling our culture’s addiction to busyness.

The quiet still voice that we can begin to recognize as divine can really only come to us through silence and solitude and a commitment to listening. God still speaks to me in many different ways: through communication and difficulties with other people, through dreams, and through life events. However, I can only hear these messages and try to discern the meaning when I stop and am silent long enough to listen.

The Rev. Cathy Murray Grigsby is an Interfaith minister ordained from the Interfaith Theological Seminary in Tucson. She teaches at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and is the co-founder of the Interfaith Ministers of New England. She is an artist, performs life ceremonies, and is a spiritual director. She can be reached at:

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